House of the Wannsee Conference

House of the Wannsee Conference

On 27th January 1945 Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army, and each year since 2005 the date has been commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This blog is dedicated to the memory of all those who died during this inhuman period of European history.

The Holocaust is largely remembered for the genocide of 6 million Jews, but there were also an estimated 11 million others including Slavs (mainly Poles and Russians), Roma, political and religious dissidents, homosexuals and the ‘incurably sick’.

My inquiring mind into why Europe descended into so much chaos during the 20th century has led me to some dark places – and here’s another one – but unlike Auschwitz, there are no gas chambers or mass graves here; in fact, this lovely villa perched on the shores of the Großer Wannsee, couldn’t be more different.

The Front Entrance

Situated on the south-western outskirts of Berlin, the villa was used as the location for a conference on 20th January 1942 where fifteen representatives of the SS and other Nazi ministries sat around a table chaired by Reinhard Heydrich to discuss the “Final solution to the Jewish question”.

The reason for Hitler’s dislike of Jews has been discussed by any number of academics over the years and several theories have been put forward, but whatever those reasons were, his policy of forcing them out of Germany and elsewhere never fully satisfied his ambition to totally eradicate their existence in Europe once and for all, and so a solution needed to be found.

The meeting started at midday and was over by 1.30 with a Protocol (document) issued by Adolf Eichmann, head of the Gestapo’s section for Jewish affairs, outlining the proposals that had been agreed. In simple terms, the Protocol set out plans for the systematic murder of 11 million European Jews, an objective, as we know, that was never fully achieved.

A page from the Protocol showing the number of Jews in each country

The House of the Wannsee Conference, as it’s now called, won’t be on everyone’s list of places to see while they’re in Berlin, and understandably so, but I came here to find out how the perpetrators of this plan could sit around a table and discuss matters like this in the cold light of day without an ounce of compassion or feeling of guilt.

To get here involved a 45-minute ride on the S7 from Alexanderplatz to Wannsee and then bus #114 to the other side of the lake.

The villa is in a quiet residential area and is described as a ‘Memorial and Educational Site’, and obviously not a mainstream attraction because I had to ring a bell before I was allowed through the gates and into the grounds of the villa.

As there were no other visitors here, I was able to wander around on my own at will, which made the visit so much more poignant. There was a small exhibition detailing the plight of the Jews under Nazi occupation, but needless to say, the focus of attention is on the room where the conference took place.

The Conference Room

Under normal circumstances I would have considered it to be an elegant room with lovely views over the grounds towards the lake – but the events that took place back in 1942 weren’t normal circumstances, and I wasn’t in here very long before I decided to leave the house and wander around outside.

List of the attendees at the conference

The lakeside was the perfect place to enjoy a picnic I’d brought along with me. It was a lovely day and it was so peaceful here, but somehow I just wasn’t hungry, so I fed my lunch to the ducks instead.

Staring out across the lake, I couldn’t help but wonder how a group of men could discuss such a barbaric plan in such a lovely setting. I came here hoping that I might find some answers, but unsurprisingly I didn’t – probably because there aren’t any.

Shalom!

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18 thoughts on “House of the Wannsee Conference

  1. Alli Templeton

    Good grief, Malc. This couldn’t be more incongruous. When I first saw the picture I thought ‘oh that looks a lovely place to wander around’. But to learn it was the setting for one of the most evil meetings in history, and what that meeting led to, can only make me think that it’s beauty is completely eclipsed by its story. You must have felt an uneasy chill walking around that conference room. I swear walls absorb the events that happen within them, and that place can’t be any exception. The faces of the attendees and that list of Jewish populations is enough to make the blood run cold. A very fitting gesture to dedicate this post to the memories of all those who suffered as a result of that fateful conference. Well said. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks for taking a look at this post Alli. Not everyone would want to, but as difficult as it might be to come to terms with the horror of these things, it always makes me feel grateful and blessed for the life I’ve been able to have,

      Reply
  2. Fergy.

    Another brilliant piece, Malc, as is evidenced by the comments above which between them say just about everything I would have wished to express. You certainly do not shy away from the hard stuff, do you?

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks again for your smashing comments Fergy. I realise that not everyone likes to read about these sort of things, but visiting places likr this certainly helps me to keep my feet on the ground.

      Reply
  3. Odiseya

    We remembered! It is a very scary moment when you realize that someone could be such destructive and dangerous. I did not know for this location, still not visit Berlin but I plan too. In local Jewish cultural center I attend a lecture about Holocaust on 27th January this year. The Balkans sees very dark times trough the history and it was part of Holocaust too.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      So many places in Europe suffered from the Holocaust including your part of the world Aleksandra. I hope you get to Berlin someday. I know that you’ve been wanting to go for ages. Thanks for checking this one out.

      Reply
  4. toonsarah

    I hadn’t realised that this was open for public visits. I found the Holocaust Memorial exhibition in Berlin harrowing but at the same time very thoughtfully and sympathetically done. It struck me then that the city isn’t afraid of facing up to and acknowledging its dark past, and this seems to be another example of that honesty. The contrast between the beautiful surroundings and the discussions that took place here is stark indeed, and your blog captures that very powerfully. Thank you for sharing it.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks for taking a look Sarah. It’s certainly worth making a trip out to Wannsee if you have the stomach for this sort of thing

      Reply
  5. Liz Morley

    Another beautifully written and heart felt piece. Thanks for sharing that experience with us here.
    During my school days at a Girls Grammar school there were in my form five Jewish girls whose families had fled from Germany – just in time. Two of them became my best friends – one introduced me to opera and classical music as well as “Mitching” on Wednesday afternoons when a touring opera company offered half price matinee tickets!
    After graduating she left for Israel and our contact ended.
    The other I always remained in touch with even though we ended at opposite ends of the country we met annually at School Reunions until her death 2 years ago in her 80th year.
    None ever really spoke about their memories – they were brought out whilst still young and in time.But they did share things about older relatives who did not survive..
    Our contact and friendships with those five girls was an extra special lesson in learning about one of the worst periods in human history .

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks for your lovely comments Liz and I’m pleased to see that I’ve brought back some more memories for you. They seem like good ones regardless of the subject

      Reply
  6. starship VT

    Malcolm, once again you’ve taken us to someplace that was not on our radar. However, it’s just the kind of historical place that my husband and I would definitely visit. It is indeed a beautiful setting and just the kind of place that meglomaniacs choose for themselves for many reasons. We tend to love history and the Holocaust itself is a subject we’ve read about and often watch documentaries on, as well as in the general context of WWII. Nice write up and photos of your time at this historic place!

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks for your virtual visit to Wannsee with me Sylvia. It may not be an enjoyable place to visit in the true sense of the word, but it’s a very thought-provoking one.

      Reply
  7. PJ Nicholls

    Great blog – we were there last year. It is hard to imagine that such sinister plans unfolded in such a beautiful setting. Have you visited the Soviet museum in Berlin where the end of the war treaty was signed? The stories that were told in there were quite graphic.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      First of all, thanks for your comment. Comments are always greatly appreciated.Secondly, the Soviet Museum has somehow escaped me, but if I get another opportunity I can assure you that it won’t now. Thanks for the info 🙂

      Reply
  8. bitaboutbritain

    Astonishing, Malc. So that’s Wannsee; I had no idea it was such a lovely place. Bizarre contrast with the evil that took place there. It must have been a tough, but compelling, place to visit. Good for you, for going out of your way. I must say that I found your writing incredibly powerful.

    Reply

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